Ron Marinucci - August Column
by Ron Marinucci, Aug. 8, 2017
Provided by RMDC
Supplements: fish oil, glucosamine, chondroitin, calcium and iron, CoQ10, probiotics, even multi-vitamins and minerals, etc. They are a billion-dollar industry. Runners and other athletes are among their prime targets. Running magazines and health journals are filled with pages of their advertising.
But do they work? Especially for runners, do they provide advantages and assistance to help with running? Are there benefits to performance, recovery, etc.? Here, I’m talking about legal supplements, over-the-counter/non-prescription ones.
Many studies seem to cast doubt on the benefits of supplements relative to athletic performance; they just do not perform as advertised. (Of course, I’ve been around long enough to know if one looks hard, he/she can likely find some study to support just about anything.) Yet, many runners swear by them, attesting with anecdotal evidence to their effectiveness. Money continues to be spent on supplements in huge amounts.
Generally, runners seem to fall into three categories relative to the use of supplements. Some think they are wastes, merely scams to get hard-earned money. Others, as noted above, swear by them. These runners take a supplement or two or three daily. Still others aren’t sure, but take them anyway. Their attitudes seem to be “What can they hurt?” and until shown otherwise, continue to use them.
I asked a number of veteran runners about supplements. Do they use them? If so, which ones do they take? Why do or why don’t they use them? Do they really note any advantages and benefits to supplements?
One of my running buddies, Bob Drapal, has been running for four or more decades. He takes glucosamine and chondroitin and Vitamin D, the latter “per doctor’s suggestion; I’m a little low.” He will also “pop a couple of Aleves before a run,” adding, “It could be more psychological [than physiological], but it seems to work.” He also “swear[s] by glucosamine and chondroitin.” He doesn’t remember who
first suggested them to him. He laughed, “Maybe it was you,” meaning me. “I tried it for achy knees about eight years ago and it works.” His proof is, “My 72-year old body is still going about 90 miles a week.”
Ellis Boal is 72 years old and is “approaching 80,000 lifetime miles combined running and skiing.” While once an avid racer, “Until the mid-‘90s, I ran eight or ten marathons, with a best of 2:36 in Detroit,” he said, “I compete only at skiing these days.” When snow is available Up North, he tries to cross country ski daily. “When there is no snow, I run just on Sundays, with friends, usually eight miles.” And with wife, LuAnn, he kayaks. With all that activity, Boal takes “two iron pills and a baby aspirin daily.” Otherwise, he shuns supplements.
Mark Cryderman is “a 70-and-over runner.” He admits, “I have backed off longer runs.” Now he runs “typically about five miles every other day.” And he still races, “approximately twenty-six races a year—all 5Ks. No more half marathons, marathons, sprint tris, or even 10Ks,” he said. Swimming and biking several times a week are also on his physical activity schedule, mixing in upper body work and balance training. “I take Osteo Bi-Flex for joint health. On running days, I also have a milk/organic protein powder drink, about 24 ounces.” He’s found Osteo Bi-Flex and Move Free, glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, to be his “choices to keep my joints healthy.” Having taken these joint supplements for at least ten years, he said, “Well, my joints have held up pretty well. I’m not sure how the supplements fit in, but I feel they can’t hurt.” He’s taken the protein powder drink for several years, “introduced by my son-in-law. I like to think it helps rebuild muscles after a run and with hydration. I definitely feel better after the drink.”
Laurel Park has been among the top Michigan women’s runners for many years. She takes “a low-dose iron supplement every three days” after she was found to be anemic in her senior year of high school. In addition, she takes “a women’s formula multi-vitamin and mineral tablet daily. This past
winter I also started taking a Vitamin D supplement every couple of days after a routine blood test showed my level was barely within the lower boundary of ‘normal.’” Years ago, connective tissue inflammation led to lower back and pelvic problems. “I took glucosamine and chondroitin for a couple of months at the half-hearted suggestion of my doctor [who said], ‘Some people swear by it; others say it doesn’t make any difference at all. Either way, it won’t hurt you in small doses.’” She didn’t notice any positive changes, “although my finger nails and hair seemed to benefit! It was expensive so I stopped taking it.” Park also stressed, “I have never, nor would I, take any herbal supplement.” Part of the reason is she isn’t sure how her body would react. But she also remembers hearing of stories about racing competitors who had taken some herbals testing positive for banned substances. The herbal supplements “mimicked PEDs,” outlawed performance-enhancing drugs.
Perhaps with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Doug Kurtis brought up his own drug-testing experience. “In 1989,” when he ran twelve sub-2:20 marathons, “I was drug tested six times at races. The medics would ask Kurtis if he had taken any vitamins. ‘I said, ‘Yes. I’ve been taking Vitamin M for years.’’ Perplexed, “They didn’t know what that was.” Explaining, Kurtis added, “To this day, I still add dark chocolate M & Ms to my diet!” No prescription required.
Mike “Flagman” Bowen is on a new running mission. He’s completed a mile of running for all of the casualties of the Vietnam War (58,282) as well as one for each of the 3,030 casualties of 9/11. Now he’s “running a mile for each American who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq,” to help ensure that we “Never Forget.” That will total more than another 6,800 miles. His “supplements” are a bit more traditional—or are they? Before heading out for a run, he has “a pint of hot black coffee, two very ripe bananas, and a Clif Bar. They’re good for three hours, with is only about ten miles,” he lamented. He takes nothing else. This works for Bowen. “I’m in training for my 34th 10 miler at the Crim—in a row!”
Another long-time Flint-area runner who has completed all of the Crim 10-Milers is Riley McLincha. He’s just finished his latest adventure, too, Runyak for Liberty. That’s combining running and kayaking from Michigan to the Statue of Liberty, circling Lady Liberty on June 20. He said, “I take no supplements. I got suckered enough times in my first five years of running to know most, with supplements, gadgets, or clothing, don’t work. They’re just marketing to get your money.” Besides, he went on, “I don’t have time to figure out what really works.” He did admit, though, “I recently bought a couple pairs of compression sleeves,” noting, “not that I believe in them, but they cover the vitiligo on my lower legs so I don’t have to put sun block on them.”
Tom Cameron and Stu Allen reflected on their ages in relation to running and supplements. Cameron wrote, “I used to take glucosamine and chondroitin, but stopped as I saw no advantage. I do take a multi-vitamin and calcium,” adding lamentably, “with meds for high blood pressure and thyroid and also an aspirin. Getting old sucks!”
Allen said, “I don’t take any supplements except for a daily multi-vitamin,” adding with his emphasis, “designed for seniors.” Instead, he tries “to eat a balanced diet, consuming enough calories to maintain strength and stamina.”
Long-time Michigan runner, cyclist, and write Scott Hubbard is in the same camp as Allen. “I’ve never taken supplements of any kind in nearly fifty years of running and cycling. I eat right, try to sleep well, and rest when needed.” These prescriptions work well for Cameron, Allen, and Hubbard, proven by their longevity and achievements.
Sarah Boyle follows a similar philosophy. She’s the head women’s cross country coach at Cleary University. She has a lengthy record of running successes on her own. “I’ve just started racing again after my second baby was born on May 8. My first race back was the Hungry Duck 5K in Brighton.” And she is “looking forward to racing each month through the rest of the year to continue to build my
fitness.” Besides a multi-vitamin, “I do not take any supplements. I try to get everything I need in my daily diet. And I drink a good raw juice every so often.”
Also a cross country coach, at Otsego High School as well as working with adults, Steve Long looks out for his runners as well as himself. “I strongly encourage my athletes to take a multi-vitamin supplement.” He sends a handout to his athletes and their parents to explain why. He includes other kinds of supplements in his explanation, too. He noted, “What I run into with high school kids, especially girls, is a lack of iron. But,” he conceded,” it’s tricky because some kids don’t need iron and it can cause issues if they get too much. I encourage my athletes to get their iron levels checked to see if [a supplement] is one of their needs.” Other than that, Long said, “I don’t promote supplements of any other kind, just the multi-vitamin.” Like the aforementioned runners, he looks to diet. “Eating healthy is a conversation that I have before I talk about supplementation.”
Analya Callendar has been running for “approximately 40 years.” Her “longest” run has been “about 18 or 20 miles.” But she’s run “many 5Ks and 10Ks and a half marathon.” “I still run about four days a week from four to six miles at a time.” She noted, “I do not take any supplements or medications to assist with joint issues [related to] running. I find as long as I have good fitting shoes, that I replace after they lose their support, and my orthotics, I don’t have any issues.”
“I’m very ‘old school,’” Tracey Cohen wrote. “I do not take any supplements. I prefer to get what I need through my diet.” She also has concerns about becoming “dependent on what are often costly products.” As a testament to her thinking, she added, “I might not be the fastest runner, but I feel I do OK and rarely get sick.”
Donna Swanson said, “I use a product called Vespa before and during all my marathons.” The liquid product is a mixture of orange juice, filtered water, bee propolis [Look it up!], wasp extract, royal jelly, and honey.” She feels this helps her body “to burn its own fat for fuel during events of two hours
or more.” She was introduced to this by Curt Lintvedt, who as finished more than 300 marathons. “I’ve used it since 2010. I take one [dose] forty-five minutes before the marathon starts and another halfway. It seems to help my energy stay steady without any sugar spikes.” Swanson herself has ninety-four marathons to her credit. “I still continue to like this product.” Who’s to argue with success? Me? Until fifteen or sixteen years ago, I took no pills, not even aspirin, ibuprofen—nothing. I have changed, if only a bit. My physician has prescribed Simvastatin for cholesterol and suggests a daily low-dose aspirin. On my own, mostly because I’m not at all a fan of vegetables and many fruits, I take a multi-vitamin. About eleven or twelve years ago, Darrel McKee mentioned he rid himself of some joint pain by taking Osteo Bi-Flex, the glucosamine and chondroitin product. I couldn’t locate it, but did find Move Free, something similar. I now pop two of those each day, too. I often feel guilty, especially in regard to my previous abstinence, swallowing five pills each morning. But I have no aches or pains, at least none until my ankles and knees tell me it’s time for new shoes; then all is right again. I’m still pounding out 40 or more miles a week, often with two runs a day, over the course of five or six days. I chuckle about advice from a nonrunner while training for my last few marathons. He strongly suggested BPFE, “bee pollen from England.” I refrained, although I did laugh about it, to myself.
What I’ve learned from all of this is a lesson from Dr. George Sheehan, the late but great philosopher of running. Forty or more years ago, he wrote that each runner is “an experiment of one.” Indeed, what works for one runner might not work for another.